Three strikes

First Posted: 1/15/2009

It’s only a myth that bad news always arrives as a triplet, but that was
the case recently as Robeson County lost three civic leaders in the span
of five days. Carr Gibson, Joseph Sandlin and James Wilton Wilkerson
traveled different paths to get to Robeson County, but it was here where
they spent the majority of their adult lives working on behalf of all of
us. — It was as a forester that Carr Gibson made a fortune, but it was
as a community leader that he put those dollars to their best use.
Gibson was an unlikely philanthropist, frugal in his daily routine, a
possible hangover from having spent his early years during the
Depression, but his heart was as big as his stature. Gibson gave
generously to Southeastern Regional Medical Center, and its cancer
clinic is named in his honor. But Gibson’s charity — both in dollars and
in his time — reached all corners of the county. He was a politician,
having served as a county commissioner and as a member of the school
board, and he was once a trustee at what is now The University of North
Carolina at Pembroke. He also took a keen interest in the Boys and Girls
Club of Lumberton/Robeson County, which works every day to give
less-fortunate children positive alternatives while stressing the
importance of gaining an education. — Joseph Sandlin, like Gibson, was
someone who operated quietly, behind the scenes, content to do good
deeds without the flash of a camera. A kind and unassuming man, Sandlin
fashioned two successful careers, as a banker and then teaching banking
at UNCP, the North Carolina School of Banking and the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was an accomplished fund-raiser,
helping raise dollars for a variety of worthwhile causes, including UNCP
and the public library. He helped establish Robeson House and the local
Boys and Girls Club, and at the time of his death served on no fewer
than six boards. — Unlike Gibson and Sandlin, Wilton Wilkerson was out
front in his effort to make Robeson County a better place to live, but
that’s because he had little choice. Wilkerson’s name was synonymous
with the Keep Robeson County Clean and Green campaign that was its most
robust in the mid- to late-1990s. It isn’t a coincidence that in recent
years, as declining health sapped Wilkerson of what had been a vast
reservoir of energy, the campaign suffered and became less visible. But
there is no way of knowing how many fast-food bags were picked up, or
cigarette butts that were properly discarded, because of Mr. Clean and
Green, who recognized that often a county’s first impression is the only
one that matters. The passing of these three gentlemen in such a short
time is a serious blow to Robeson County — and it will take the
generosity and the skills of scores of us to fill their collective void.

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